JERUSALEM – At least four U.S. citizens were among the dead after a stampede on the slopes of Mount Meron in Israel, a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry said on Saturday, as funeral preparations began.
Lior Haiat told NBC News the department is helping American families who try to rob the country.
“There are four families in the New York area that we are in contact with, and the New York Consulate is helping them,” Haiat said. “There are two other families from Canada and one from Argentina and we are also in contact with their families,” he added.
At least 45 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in the stampede around 1 a.m. local time Friday (8 p.m. ET Thursday) that occurred during the Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel, by the tomb of an ancient Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Each year, tens of thousands of people – mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews – flock to the area to celebrate the rabbi and light bonfires as part of the celebrations. The event was the first mass religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Representative Josh Gottheimer, DN.J. tweeted friday that one of his constituents, Donny Morris, had died in a crush.
Rabbi Yechiel Morris, his uncle, confirmed his death to several media outlets, telling them that the 19-year-old had undertaken studies in Israel. NBC News could not independently verify this information and contacted his family.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Israel said on Saturday it was “working with local authorities to verify if other US citizens were affected and providing all possible consular support to affected US citizens and their families.”
Israel’s health ministry told Reuters that 32 of the dead had been identified so far on Friday evening, but Haiat said observance of the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest, interrupted this process until after bedtime. of the sun on Saturday evening. Many funerals are also expected to take place after this date, in accordance with religious practice.
He said the names of the deceased Americans had not been confirmed, but the identification would likely be complete by Sunday.
It is not known what prompted the stampede, but video footage showed people being pulled back and forth by the momentum of the tight crowd. Other footage from the event showed a mass of people, mostly men dressed in black, pouring into a narrow open passage.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and offered US help.
“The United States stands with the people of Israel and Jewish communities around the world in mourning the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron,” Biden said in a statement. “The loss of life among the faithful practicing their faith is heartbreaking.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that two Canadians were among those who died and said he was feeling “shock and sadness” in a statement Friday. Other world leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also offered their condolences.
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After visiting the scene on Friday, Netanyahu said it was “one of the worst disasters to hit the State of Israel.”
“We will conduct a thorough, serious and thorough investigation to ensure that such a disaster does not happen again,” he said, before declaring Sunday a day of national mourning.
However, angry crowds appeared to mock and boo at Netanyahu during his visit, in videos posted to social media, as many blamed his government and police for the disaster.
Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem and Adela Suliman from London.
Reuters contributed to this report.